The attractive idea of a National Series with up to 125 games for elite teams has been put on hold for at least a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the debate now revolves around possible alternatives.
Las Tunas, Cuba.- So far, the most likely seems to be a single-phase tournament, with 75 games per team. At least that seems to come out of the words of Ernesto Reynoso, national baseball director, first in a digital interview, and then in statements to the Trabajadores newspaper.
The main question right now is how long it will take for each team to start preparing, a period that according to Reynoso should be about six weeks. In addition, sports activities will not begin before July 31, so the voice of play ball will not be heard until mid-September.
"The purpose of any variant will always be to finish in January, because we are waiting for the date of the Olympic qualifying tournament and the U-23 World Championship, and most importantly, that next year we do want to implement the newly approved structure," said Reynoso.
In this way, whatever the alternative, it should comply with a schedule that starts in the second half of September and does not extend beyond the first month of 2021.
But what are the possible variants?
Originally, the 60th National Series was to begin on April 11 as a single tournament, unheard of for its 125 games between the qualifying and elite stages. Each team was to play 75 games in the initial phase between April and July, with five against each opponent to be held on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Mondays and Fridays would be rest days.
As in recent years, the top four would automatically advance to the elite stage, while the fifth-to eighth-placed teams would have to define in playoffs the other two privileged.
Each of the six teams that would continue in the race for the title would take seven reinforcements and face the second phase of 50 games from September to November, from which the four semi-finalists would emerge.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic came to disrupt everything and emergency options are now being handled: up to four different schedule projects, according to Reynoso.
The favorite is a 75-game tournament for the 16 teams, with direct advancement of the top four to the play-offs and a request for reinforcements for the postseason.
Another possibility would be a 60-game match (four against each opponent) with the same route as the previous one, which would include less playing time and should be applied in case the health emergency extends the deadlines envisaged so far.
Beyond these two variants, which seem the most likely, the number of games for each team could have other figures. If the Eastern and Western divisions were to be returned, the number of games could be 72 (five against those in the own zone and four against those in the other), 64 (five against those in the same key and three against the other) or 56 (four against those in their section and three against those in the other).
The postseason is the other hot point of the debate. From what Reynoso said, it is clear that for now only four play-off qualifiers are handled, although there are many voices calling for the advance of the top eight with the quarter-final-semi-final-final system.
If the latter possibility is considered, the format of 60 games would probably be the most feasible to meet the deadlines set by the National Baseball Directorate.